Telltale Games is good at giving people what they want, but not expert at eliciting revelation. Many people point to LucasArts’ Sam & Max Hit The Road and Monkey Island 2 as among their pivotal videogame experiences, but few could say the same for Telltale’s Sam & Max Beyond Time And Space and Tales Of Monkey Island. Those games are largely intended for the people who loved the classics, and want more. The first episode in Back To The Future: The Game, Telltale’s first foray into film franchises, and the first new anything in the venerated ’80s franchise in nearly 20 years, works to that end. It is, for better or worse, just Back To The Future. Players’ mileage may vary, depending on how excited they are by the idea of seeing another generation of Tannen eat manure.
The game’s opening is a bit more satisfying than what follows: The first few moments of play initially seem like a recreation of the test drive of the DeLorean time machine in a shopping-mall parking lot, a familiar setting for establishing the find-an-item-use-an-item and dialogue interactions that make up play in Back To The Future. It quickly becomes clear that things aren’t quite right, culminating in Marty (eerily, accurately voiced by A.J. Locascio) saying “This isn’t how it happened.” Then begins the revisiting of nearly every story trope from the original films.
The introduction is actually a nightmare—Marty wakes up, and his mother reassures him about what year it is. A few months have passed since Back To The Future III ended, and a bank is auctioning off the estate of the presumed-dead Doc Emmett Brown (played again by Christopher Lloyd). Little time is spent in 1986, though—the DeLorean reappears with a cryptic request for help from Doc. Then it’s off to the past, where Marty takes on the name of a pop-culture icon, runs into an ancestor, tussles with a Tannen, and gets involved in a high-speed chase, though this time, on a rocket bike rather than a hoverboard.
The familiarity of the plot would sting less if the game’s puzzles were a bit more complex, but the challenges in Back To The Future: The Game don’t much task your logic centers. The first episode can be finished in less than two hours, mostly by clicking on the most recently found item on the most recently met character. Promising scenarios like helping a young Doc create rocket fuel are boiled down to Simon Says-style order-following rather than problem-solving.
The game is hardly a wash, though. The cartoon-style visuals suit the Back To The Future world, the writing captures that mix of humor and sentimentality that made the films memorable, and new characters, like teetotaler Edna Strickland (relative of Principal Strickland), fit the series’ canon like a glove. Still, the whole isn’t much more than fanboy comfort food. Telltale’s episodic adventures tend to get better as the episodes go on, so there’s still hope for Back To The Future: The Game. In the meantime, you should just make like a tree and play something else.